ED11 - Gender and Educational Achievement

In this Section, we will explore the trends in gender and educational achievement.

It has been noted that differences between the academic performance of girls and boys begin at an early stage in their educational journey. In 2013, teacher assessments conducted during the reception stage indicated that girls outperformed boys in subjects such as literacy, language, maths, and personal social and emotional development. This disparity continued to widen throughout Key Stage 1, 2, and 3, with girls performing better in humanities and English subjects. However, this gap narrowed when it came to science, mathematics, and technical subjects. At Key Stage Four, the average gap in terms of GCSE point score ranged from five to 10 points. This gap further narrowed at A-Level, which can be attributed to the fact that students are free to choose subjects they are interested in or talented at. Thus, their interest in a subject can significantly impact their educational achievement.

Sociologists tend to focus on GCSEs for educational achievement as it is the qualification that the majority of 16-year-olds in the UK undertake. Though there are alternative qualifications such as GNVQs, BTECs, and IGCSEs, GCSEs provide a vast dataset that sociologists can use to identify trends and potential causes. In vocational education, more boys than girls tend to undertake practical qualifications. However, despite this, girls tend to perform better, achieving more distinctions than boys.

Let's take a closer look at the trends in GCSEs. The first metric we will examine is the average attainment eight score. The attainment eight score is determined by adding up the grade score for eight subjects, including English and maths, along with their best back subjects, and the highest grades from the remaining subjects. Since 2014, under Michael Gove's curriculum changes, there has been a significant discrepancy between the academic performance of boys and girls. Boys typically score between 43 and 47 points, while girls score between 49 and 52 points, highlighting a substantial gap. Furthermore, girls outperform the national average, indicating that they perform better overall in GCSEs than boys. If we focus on the percentage of students achieving a grade four or C in E back subjects, there is a notable difference, with girls averaging around 30% and boys just under 20%. This 10% gap in performance between the genders is of particular interest to sociologists, who seek to uncover the reasons behind this widening gap.